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PV School District Sues Corporations Over Chemicals Found in Water

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Harmful contaminants in Putnam Valley Elementary School well water discovered more than two years ago have prompted the Putnam Valley Central School District to take legal action against major chemical companies that manufacture the chemicals.

Elevated levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) were found in the drinking water at the school in 2020 during a routine water sampling by the Putnam County Health Department. Both PFOA and PFOS are part of a larger group of compounds known as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Because PFAS are durable and resilient they are found in hundreds of industrial applications and consumer products such as non-stick cookware, carpeting, apparels, upholstery, food paper wrappings, wire and cable coatings and in the manufacturing of semiconductors. For decades PFAS has been widely used in certain fire suppression foam used by professional firefighters.

The district has since installed a cutting-edge carbon filtration system that removes contaminants from its well water. To date, no measurable amounts of dangerous chemicals have been found in the school’s drinking water.

“The new treatment system was approved, installed and was recently inspected by our Health Department staff,” said Putnam County Commissioner of Health Michael J. Nesheiwat in a statement e-mailed to the Putnam Examiner last week.


On Dec. 21, the school district filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Putnam County to recoup expenses related to purchasing and installing a new filtration system and monitoring the drinking water. Among the 23 chemical companies named in the suit are 3M, Dupont M, AGC Chemical Americas Inc. and Tyco Fire Products, LP.

In a letter last week, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeremy Luft informed parents about the lawsuit against the manufacturers.

“This lawsuit was filed naming the Putnam Valley School District as a claimant and comes at no expense to the district,” Luft wrote.

Known as “forever chemicals,” once discharged they remain in the environment, bioaccumulate in the human body and have been linked to cancer, liver damage, immune system impairment, kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, thyroid disease and ulcerative colitis.

Napoli Shkolnik, a Manhattan-based law firm representing the district, contends in the litigation that the chemical companies named in the suit designed, manufactured, marketed, distributed and/or sold PFAS while knowing the chemicals would be released into the environment during fire protection, training and response activities.

Studies cited in the lawsuit point to 3M learning in the 1970s that chemicals containing PFAS “accumulated in the human body and were even more toxic than previously believed and that PFAS was present in the blood of the general population.”

Other studies cited in the lawsuit stated that PFAS are man-made chemicals used in the industry and for consumer products worldwide since the 1940s and do not occur naturally but are widespread in the environment.

“The lawsuit is our fiscal responsibility,” Board of Education President Parmly said. “If we recoup some of the money that was spent on the new water filtration system that would be good for the district.”

A jury trial is being sought by the school district. It is also seeking to be reimbursed for costs relating to past, current and future investigation, sampling, testing and remediation as well as punitive damages to deter the defendants from engaging in “similar wrongful conduct in the future.”

In 2016, guidelines from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had permitted the maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for PFAS at 70 parts per trillion.

PFAS substances have long been known to pollute drinking water across New York State including the Hudson Valley. Getting ahead of the curve, in July 2020, former governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a first-in-the-nation testing standard for PFOA and PFOS in New York’s drinking water setting the allowable MCL at 10 parts per trillion, among the lowest in the United States.

Water sampled at Putnam Valley Elementary School in October 2020 showed elevated levels of PFAS that were between 16.6 and 23.3 parts per trillion for PFOA and between 22.6 and 38.8 parts per trillion for PFOS.

But according to Shawn Rogan, director of environmental health with the Putnam County Department of Health, the level did not pose a significant health risk.

“For perspective, 10 parts per trillion is approximately equivalent to a single drop of water in 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” Rogan explained. “The maximum contaminant level is set well below levels known or estimated to cause health effects.”

Rogan added that health effects associated with PFOA and PFOS comes from studies of high-level exposure in animals or humans.

“Less is known about the chances of health effects occurring from lower levels of exposure, such as those that might occur in drinking water,” he said.

Shortly after the water was tested in 2020, Luft notified parents that levels of PFOA and PFOS in the drinking water at the elementary school exceeded the state standards.

At that time the school had been using bottled water as part of the district’s COVID health protocols. Currently, filtered water from bottle-filling stations are provided at the elementary school. The water at the middle school and high school campus didn’t need to be tested because their water comes from a municipal source.

“We contacted the Putnam County Department of Health and the engineering firm WSP USA to help take the contaminants out of the water,” Parmly said. “Installing a new system wasn’t an option.”

She said because the district felt the contamination levels were so low there was no need to contact town officials. Nor did she receive any notifications from the town that advised property owners to check their well water for contaminants.

Putnam Valley Supervisor Jacqueline Annabi said private wells are not the responsibility of the town.

“The school district did not inform the town of any contamination in their well water. The school district is its own entity, Annabi said. “Any private entity such as the (Putnam Valley) Grange or a church wouldn’t necessarily tell the town of what they are doing.”

Putnam Valley Building Inspector Richard Quaglietta said water testing was the responsibility of the Putnam County Health Department and it was a property owner’s responsibility to run tests on their own well water.

“We are happy to give them test cups as a courtesy, but they do their own test and pay for it after the water is tested at Yorktown Labs,” he said.

Quaglietta said this was the first time he heard about the PFAS contamination at the elementary school.

According to Nesheiwat, the Putnam County Health Department covers the monitoring of water sample results and performing inspections of water supply and treatment facilities.

Lynette Wood, a parent of two children who attend the elementary school, said she had called Town Hall about a year ago to find out if the town tested well water.

“They told me the Building Department does test and they provide test cups,” said Wood. “I left a voicemail at the Building Department but never heard back.”

Wood, who moved to Putnam Valley in December 2020 from New York City, said her children always took bottled water to school with them.

“I know the carbon filtration system the school installed is safe and works very well, but I will hold off on having my children drink school water at least for the next couple of water tests before feeling confident for them to drink it,” she said.

Decades of PFAS use in firefighting foams for fire protection, training and response activities are believed to have seeped into the ground, the lawsuit mentioned.

The Putnam Valley Fire Department has two fire stations: one at 12 Canopus Hollow Rd. 4,662 feet from the elementary school and the other at 710 Peekskill Hollow Rd., about 4.6 miles from the elementary school.

A half-mile down the hill from the elementary school is the densely populated Floradan Estates with 98 homes. It is also home to Camp Floradan, a popular summer camp for children. Less than a half-mile from the elementary school is the town’s frequently used Leonard Wagner Memorial Park.

In December 2021, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation into law requiring the state Department of Health test for PFAS at every water utility across the state.

In October, Hochul also signed a bill that allows local municipalities to take legal action against polluters for claims previously barred due to the statute of limitations that had been capped at three years.

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